Slavery has existed in some form ever since man began to walk on his hind legs. It still exists today, not only in underdeveloped nations, but even in those nations who claim to have reached the pinnacle of civilization. It is difficult to imagine a crueler fate than that of a human kept in bondage by fellow humans.
I’ve been asked by some of the Friends of Dracula Chronicles what was the state of slavery in the 15th century, the time when Dracula lived. As a means of preparing the readers for my upcoming book, I will give here a brief outline of this dark subject.
In Dracula’s time slavery was practiced on a relatively small scale in most European Christian countries. Male slaves were used primarily as rowers on galleys, and as laborers in the fields, shipyards, mines, and artisanal shops. Female slaves were employed as domestic servants, as well as workers in the wool processing industry.
In Christian Europe, slaves were generally non-Christian whites, coming from the ranks of North African Arab pirates, Ottoman war prisoners, and Tartars from the region north of the Black Sea. Remarkably, there were also a small number Orthodox Christians from territories presently known as Ukraine and Russia.
For most of Dracula’s time, black slavery in Christian Europe was in its infancy. It grew gradually towards the end of the century as the Portuguese advanced in their conquest of the waterways around Africa.
In Wallachia, Transylvania, and Moldavia, the three provinces inhabited by Romanians, the importation of slaves never took off. Instead, the enslavement of local Gypsies and the conversion of free but poor Romanian peasants into serfs did take place beginning in the third quarter of the century, after Dracula’s time
In the 15th century the greatest demand for slaves came from the Ottoman Empire. The white slaves who constituted the vast majority of the total slave population originated from Eastern and Central Europe, the Caucasus Region, and the territories north of the Black Sea. Black slaves, in relatively small numbers, were imported from Sub-Sahara Africa, via Egypt and Palestine.
The Ottomans employed male slaves in all fields of activity, but especially where work conditions were harsh or dangerous. A small number of the slaves were castrated and used as eunuchs in the female quarters of wealthy Ottomans’ households. Female slaves were used as domestic servants, as well as concubines, or even wives. Some boy slaves were selected at a young age based on physical and intellectual capabilities to be trained in the palace school for sultan’s Janissary corps or for administrative positions in the government.
In times of war, the majority of the slaves entering the Ottoman Empire were military prisoners and civilians from the defeated territories. In times of peace, when the insatiable demand for slaves could not be satisfied by plunder, slaves were imported from markets around the shores of the Black and Mediterranean Seas.
While it may be convenient to blame the Ottomans as “consumers” of slaves, it is of particular relevance to note that many slave traffickers were Christians, Genovese and Venetians, who sourced their human merchandise from Arab and Tartar slavers.